afrol News, 26 October - The World Bank yesterday approved two credits supporting an education project and an urban development project for Mauritania, totally worth some US$ 120 million (€ 135 million). Rapid urbanisation has made government increased focus on urban development and education necessary.
The two projects being supported, according to a World Bank release, are addressing "two of the most pressing challenges facing the Mauritanian government: improving the situation in the countries' burgeoning cities and slums, and ensuring children stay at school long enough to obtain a quality basic education."
Mauritania has seen an accelerated growth of its urban population over the past 30 years, from 4 percent to 61 percent. The largest cities, primarily Nouakchott (the capital, with 700,000 inhabitants) and Nouadhibou (the outlet for the iron mining activities, 100,000 inhabitants), have grown five-fold, according to official figures.
The population is young and growing fast, and although good progress has been made in the education system, the challenges of providing universal basic education as well as further education and training to enable the youth to get jobs and form the backbone of a healthy economy, are daunting, World Bank officials analyse the situation.
The credit for the Urban Development Project is supposed to "support the government's program of urban activities planned over the next ten years, which forms part of the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) - the new poverty-focused economic policy framework agreed upon with the Bank and IMF in consultation with civil society." According to the World Bank analysis, "This represents a much-needed comprehensive look at the pressing urban challenges facing the country."
The project will concentrate primarily on the slums in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. It is set to improve those quarters in a planned comprehensive manner, providing basic urban infrastructure such as roads, water, electricity and schooling; regular land tenures; micro-credit for small and medium enterprise creation (particularly in construction and services).
- Forty percent of Nouakchott's inhabitants, many of whom were nomads sedentarised many years ago, still live in slums and underserved plots, comments Task Manager Abdelghani Inal, Highway Engineer at the Bank. "We are determined to help them alongside the government."
The project also aims at helping to decentralise urban management, and provide support for artisanal fishing, a major source of employment and income along the coast, particularly close to the two major cities.
The credit for the Education Sector Development Project is to support the government's plan to reform the education sector over a ten-year period, with the goal of reaching universal basic education (10 years at school) and much improved higher and technical education.
According to the World Bank, the Mauritanian government "has shown a high degree of commitment to improving the education sector evidenced by recent history, the counterpart government funds devoted to this project (a good portion of which come from reduced debt service under the February 2000 HIPC debt reduction agreement), and the share of national revenue devoted to education, due to rise from 13 percent to 16.8 percent under the program."
The project's main objectives are to establish:
- Mauritania's investments in education are impressive and we are fully committed at its side to this new and bold endeavour to reform the system and better adapt it to the labour market, concludes Task Manager Mourad Ezzine, Education Specialist at the Bank.
Mauritania, situated on the Atlantic seaboard of the Saharan desert, south of Morocco and north of Senegal, has a narrow resource base consisting mainly of fishing, mining (iron) and some tourism; more than half the population live below the poverty line and the rural sector employs 64 percent of the workforce.
According to a recent IMF report, the Mauritanian government has been engaged for over a decade "in ambitious reform policies that have affected all aspects of the country's political, economic and social life." While the democratisation process has met recent setbacks, the government's economic and poverty reduction policy is widely seen as a success.